Personal injury lawsuits are legal disputes that occur when one person suffers harm from either an injury or accident, and someone else may be held legally responsible for that harm. Personal injury claims involve two main issues: liability and damages. If you can connect the dots between these two, meaning that the defendant is liable for the damages you sustained, then you have likely had a case and our system of justice will likely award you compensation for the loss you sustained.  Every tort claim may it be through negligence, intentional torts, or strict liability can be the basis of a personal injury lawsuit. 

What Qualifies as a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

A worker helps bandage the injured knee of a fellow worker

To qualify as a personal injury lawsuit, the case must involve negligence, strict liability, or an intentional tort. Negligence cases are not limited to just car accidents, it reaches to many personal injury lawsuits such as medical malpractice cases. 

Another basis for a personal injury lawsuit is strict liability. This growing area of tort law involves holding individuals who design and create products “strictly liable” for injuries resulting from defects in the products. In these cases, the plaintiff must show that the product was designed and/or manufactured in a way that made the product unreasonably dangerous when used as intended. 

Intentional torts are another basis for personal injury claims. This is when someone commits a tortious act on purpose. Examples of this are if someone hits you or wrongfully detains you for shoplifting. Individuals who commit intentional torts like assault and battery can be held criminally or civilly liable. 

What can a Personal Injury Attorney do for you?

A man with and injured hand attempts to fill out paperwork on a cllipboard

Personal injury claims cover a broad variety of situations and accidents. While many people may think they can handle their injury claims on their own and can save on legal fees, serious cases often benefit from a personal injury attorney’s legal expertise. While in certain cases, you may be capable of handling your claim through Small Claims Court or even your insurance, you may also need to seek the advice of a qualified legal professional. This can depend on the case, legal elements of your claim, and of course severity of injuries. 

If an individual were to handle their claim, they need to understand what they are capable of doing alone, and what could be at stake if they were to mishandle their case. To determine if an attorney is worth the cost, or if you may be unsure about whether you need an attorney for your case, it is best to contact an attorney as soon as possible after your injury. 

Certain cases where you may not need an attorney would be in car accidents with minor or no injuries. Other factors that can contribute to a decision not to retain an attorney are if you are condiment in negotiating with a claims adjustor, or comfortable in researching the law and the settlement process. There is also usually no need to retain an attorney if you live in a no-fault state and do not have serious injuries, or the fact that you have already been offered the maximum settlement amount possible under the defendant’s insurance policy. 

However, there are other instances where you would need to hire an attorney. These are different depending on if you are in small claims court or not. If the insurance company or party in small claims court has legal representation, then it may be smart to consider this too. 

While some individuals decide not to hire an attorney because immediately after their accident, their injuries seem minor, this is not a good thought process. Some seemingly minor injuries can turn into major injuries within weeks to months of the accident. In this case, where the minor injuries are no longer minor, and you may have already accepted a settlement offer, you cannot recover for any future injuries from the accident because you signed away your rights to sue about this claim in the future by accepting the settlement. 

A claim may not be complete within a few days or even months after the accident which caused your injuries because you may have emotional distress as well as pain and suffering. All in all, when considering a personal injury claim, the level of the injury can make all the difference. It is important to consult a lawyer and wait to accept offers until you know the full extent of your injuries. 

A Walkthrough of a Personal Injury Lawsuit:

Someone in a wheelchair wheels away from from 2 people using a laptop

When a person is injured in whatever scenario it may be, if their damages equate to more than $10,000 which is the limit for most small claims courts, then they will likely not be able to represent themselves and need an attorney. After an initial consultation, the attorney will likely initiate an exploratory investigation of the claim to determine if you might have a case. If the attorney determines that the injured individual has a potential case, they will become a client, will sign a fee agreement, and will have an attorney-client relationship. 

Before you file a lawsuit, it is important to note the statute of limitations on your particular case. In some states, this can be as short as one year. If you miss the deadline for your case, it will be dismissed. After determining that a case exists, the plaintiff’s attorney files a personal injury complaint in civil court. This document explains what the defendant did and how the plaintiff was harmed. 

When you file a lawsuit for your personal injury claim, you become the plaintiff in the case, and the individual who injured you then becomes the defendant in the case. After the complaint is filed, the plaintiff’s attorney will serve the defendant, physically delivering the complaint and service papers explaining when the defendant is due to appear in court.

After the complaint is filed, the Defendant will likely notify their insurance company about the lawsuit. At this point, the insurance company will then appoint and pay for an attorney unless the defendant had already hired one.

After you file a lawsuit, pre-trial, lawyers on each side of the lawsuit, the plaintiff attorney and defense attorney who usually represents insurance agencies, investigate the case and gather facts through exchanging documents, questions, and depositions. This is called the process of discovery. The discovery process can take anywhere from months to years depending on the case. Once discovery is done, the defendant will try to dismiss the case asking for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff cannot win on these facts at trial. 

In the early stages of the lawsuit, both plaintiff and defense attorneys will have a court appearance where they inform the judge of the case progress, and then to agree to arbitration or mediation to settle the lawsuit or set a trial date. The settlement is much more common where only a minute percentage of personal injury cases move to the trial stage. To determine whether to settle the case or go to trial, the lawyer will likely provide a realistic assessment of the case to determine whether the claim will be successful at trial.

One option and the most common option is an informal settlement. Most cases over fault for an injury or accident can be resolved through the settlement process. The settlement usually works through negotiation between the attorneys and clients. If you settle a case out of court, the plaintiff agrees to a monetary amount in return for dropping the lawsuit against the individual who injured them. Both sides will then likely sign a written agreement, promising to forgo any further action in the form of a lawsuit, absolving the other side from future liability. The two sides agree instead to a certain amount of money in a settlement agreement. A settlement can take place at any point in a lawsuit once filed, including before trial and after trial but before a jury reaches a verdict. It is the client’s decision 

Another option is a formal lawsuit. These are typically initiated when the plaintiff files a civil complaint against another person, business, corporation, or government agency which will be known as the defendant. The plaintiff alleges here that the defendant acted without due care or irresponsibly in connection with an accident or injury that caused harm. If you win a case in court, the judge or jury will award damages for injuries. This can include compensation for lost wages, loss of future wages, physical pain and suffering, physical disfigurement or disability, or medical bills which resulted from your injuries. The initial trial usually lasts a few days.

After trial, either party may initiate an appeal which can last from months to years. However, after the appeals process is exhausted, a defendant who loses the case must compensate the plaintiff for their damages.

It is important to note that defendants in civil cases such as personal injury lawsuits are only charged a monetary sum for their actions of harming the plaintiff. This is not the punishment that some plaintiffs desire. If you are looking for fines or imprisonment to punish an individual who caused your injuries, then you would need to look into a criminal lawsuit. While civil lawsuit juries can award punitive damages against a defendant for their intentional acts against you, this is rare, and often not utilized. 

Either way, if you win your case through settlement or trial, the responsible person’s insurance company will pay money to the insured defendant for the plaintiff’s injuries in the form of medical bills, pain, and suffering as well as ongoing injuries and expenses.  All in all, if you are thinking of enacting a personal injury lawsuit, it is best to discuss your case with an attorney to determine the best course of action for you. 

Common Types of Personal Injury Cases:
A lady justice statue with an hourglass and a gavel in the background

Car Accidents

The most common personal injury case involves automobile accidents. In these cases, there is likely a negligence claim where a driver failed to exercise reasonable care. Where this duty is breached, and an injury results, the law allows you compensation for your losses. While the law in different states varies regarding fault, the underlying law of negligence remains mainly the same. A bar to recovery in these cases is where a state is a “no-fault” state, and plaintiffs are relegated to recover from their injuries and losses from their own insurance company unless there is a serious injury involved. 

Slip and Fall Cases

Slip and fall cases are also a common type of personal injury claim. This kind of claim can occur where owners or renters of property are liable for damages where they breach their legal duty to keep their premises reasonably safe and free of hazards so people on the property do not get injured. 

Medical Malpractice

These claims can occur where a doctor or health care professional does not meet the medical standard of care and subsequently, a patient gets injured from this conduct. Medical Malpractice laws are designed to protect hospitals and doctors.

Defamation: Libel and Slander

These claims may occur where either written or spoken words injure a person’s reputation, and they are harmed as a result of the untrue statements. The average plaintiff usually must prove that a negative, untrue statement was made and subsequently there was actual harm, usually in the form of financial loss. This can change based on your status as a celebrity or public figure. These individuals must prove actual malice. 

Dog Bites

These cases arise where dog owners can become financially responsible for bites or other injuries caused by their four-legged friend. While laws may vary from state to state, the owner is usually liable through strict liability. However, in some states, dogs and therefore their owners do not become liable unless the dog has a history of biting and aggression. 

Assault, Battery, and Other Intentional Torts

These claims are often the most serious personal injury claims, where a person harms another person on purpose. These cases can be in court as a criminal case, as well as a civil case. This way, they can receive compensation for their injuries as well as punish their offender criminally.


American Bar Association